“Sanibonai” means “hello” in Zulu, and you use it when you are speaking to more than one person. It’s roughly pronounced “San’bonaan”, and it is one of practically hundreds of things I’ve already learned from my two days here—this time from my roommate, Mickey. She gives me such an direct view of what life would be like for a 21-year-old college (excuse me, University) girl living in Johannesburg. Essentially, what life could be for me if I had been born on the other side of the world. She is studying to be a teacher and, in several ways, reminds me of my friend Christie from school, who is doing the same. Isn’t it funny how people are so similar at their cores? I’ll have to introduce them.

Today I put together a list of all the ingredients for my first week of baking class, and then Uncle (accompanied by Shadiah) went with me to the market. The supermarket we went to (rare among the many smaller food stands that line the streets) has much the same shiny-floor, fluorescent-light, beeping-cash-register feel that the ones at home do, only I hardly recognized a product in this one! I tried to pick healthy recipes with simple ingredients, but it was hard to anticipate some of the little differences. For example, there is no “white flour” and “whole-wheat flour”, just “white bread”, “brown bread”, and “cake flour”. Let’s hope they correspond like you’d think they would. Butter comes only in giant slabs which leaves me scratching my head about how to measure out by stick, and chocolate chips don’t exist here. Baking soda is called sodium bicarbonate and comes in packages like yeast; Honey, no one has ever heard of (“Here, get syrup. It same.”) But it’s cool. I’m improvising.

While we walk through Hilsbrow (the section of Johannesburg I’m in), Shadiah likes to hold my hand. And I like to hold her hand, too. It’s so funny to me, because I always think of kids grabbing their mom’s or sister’s hands for comfort, a feeling of protection. Shadiah is warm and kind by nature, and so I’m sure she just likes the human touch. But the truth is, she’s doing me more of a favor by making me appear to blend, and seem a part of the community. I have not seen one white person during my stay here so far, outside of the airport. So I am, of course, wearing a hat and no makeup, keeping my eyes forward and myself close to Uncle while people stare at me. Shadiah is, of course, seven years old and stopping to hug at least six people on the street–always laughing at their jokes and slapping high fives (She’s very popular. Can you believe she wants to be my friend?) Isn’t that a complete role reversal? Just one of the many things I was thinking about today.

In the afternoon I tried to clean a room in the orphanage for the baking class. I (and when I say I, I mean me plus the strong people who actually moved things) moved aside a old broken stove, what appeared to be ¾ of two, unrelated ping-pong tables (sadly the remaining ¼ of each included a pair of legs…how useful. No wonder they keep them around), several boxes full of I-didn’t-ask-what, and found a floor with a good solid layer of grime and…other things. My Aunt Ellen would have been mortified. I disposed of the rusty nails (what orphanage isn’t complete without them?!), swept, started to mop before they told me someone was coming to clean the floors once everyone left, and then tried to clean out the sink the best that I could. I set up a chalkboard at the front of the class and some of the little kids with unpronounceable names helped me wash it off. Have I mentioned how cute they are? Oh right. Here you go.

After that, Eddie took me to the grocery store to buy food for my apartment (“You sure you don’t chicken? No parts of the chicken at all?”) and I came back home and cooked eggs and canned tomatoes for dinner. I’m sticking to food I can recognize. Meanwhile, my apartmentmate was cooking chicken hearts (and, okay, it must be said, there were probably TWENTY in her pot…that’s a lot of broken-hearted chickies). Yum. Although Mickey says that that’s very common here, along with chicken feet and chicken neck and…well, I’ve talked about this for too long, I think.

I spent the evening talking to my familia on skype (several of whom have bravely learned to use it just for me, which makes me feel awfully special) and was glad to hear news from home. Then I got a phone call from Ryan and Debbie, a couple from Montana who had previously volunteered at Malaika. They told me they had read my blog and could completely relate to what I was saying about it being a culture shock here…but that their short stay here was absolutely life changing. They were so encouraging, gave me some safety tips—and it meant so much that they had tried so hard to reach out to me. Even having never met me, they had gotten my phone number and been calling me all day with the hope of making me more comfortable.

Then I spent a couple of hours working on my lesson plan for my class tomorrow and I AM SO EXCITED. I planned it out the minute and have all my materials (from worksheets on the food pyramid to spatulas and flour) at the ready. I showed it Mickey, and she was really enthusiastic about it. Coming from a soon-to-be South African teacher, that means a lot.

Thanks to everyone who has sent kind words and prayers, and please keep them coming! Y’all’s enthusiam and reassurance is really keeping me going, and giving me the ability to see the beauty here among all the stress.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13

Wish me luck at my first class!

Rachel Marie